Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hollywood's First Direct Hit on Hitler: "Confessions of a Nazi Spy"

"Confessions of a Nazi Spy" from 1939 was the first major Hollywood film to go after the alarming trend of German-American Bunds and Nazi espionage rings in the United States during the months leading up to the beginning of the war in Europe.  Warner Brothers made the film despite pressure of within and outside the Hollywood industry.  As the first direct salvo against Hitler from Hollywood ,the film was a not as successful  the box office as Warners hoped,  but it gives viewers of today an idea of just what was taking place inside their nation, albeit in a more melodramatic fashion than what would likely appeal to a general audience today.

From the International Motion Picture Data Base. (
According to the book "The Films of World War II" by Joe Morella, Edward Z. Epstein and John Griggs, "While this Warner Bros. film was not as sensational as its advance publicity led audiences of the day to expect, it was, nevertheless, the first out-and-out anti-Nazi film from a major American studio . . . [it] made its point by sticking closely to the facts of a real-life spy trial which had involved high officials in the [German Third] Reich as well as their American operatives . . . This film was instrumental in bringing about the 'Hollywood war-mongering' charges. Actors and producers received murder threats. American-based German officials screamed 'conspiracy!' and the film was subsequently banned by countries who feared offending Germany." 

The star actress/singer  Marlene Dietrich and other German actors turned down roles in the film for fear of reprisals against relatives still in The Third Reich.     Ironically the film featured star Edward G. Robinson, a major box-office draw  who later blacklisted for a time in the 1950's  for his support of left-wing causes by a jittery studio system.  

The film was successful in overseas markets. Along with the outbreak of war in Europe and growing domestic apprehension, prompted other Hollywood studios to make anti-Hitler films.  Charlie Chaplin's 1940 "The Great Dictator" was already in a planning stage when "Confessions" was released. Soon A-pictures like "A Yank in the RAF", "The Mortal Storm", the Bob Hope Comedy "My Favorite Blonde"(1941)  and  "War Hunt" (also 1941) were made in  America before the Pearl Harbor attack.


The German Bunds were all too real in 1939.  Many of the Bunds were based in German-American population centers in New York, New Jersey and the Upper Middle West.   American Nazis or "Silver Shirts" held gatherings and rallies all over the East Coast, even at Madison Square Garden. There were an estimated tens of thousands of dues paying members in the Bunds, which included groups of young people similar to the Hitler Youth.

(above a Nazi Rally and (below) American Storm Troopers in Chicago, circa1930's.

 The American Bund  movement was checked through government action and public outrage after the United States entered the Second World War.   But its legacy continues in places like Hayden Lake, Idaho and scattered "white power'  cults.  It should serve as a historical reminder of the dangers of ignoring the viral spread of  race hatred, and the damage fanaticism can bring to a democratic nation.

Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, here is a brief announcement from a time after the long-delayed public awakening of the dangers shown above. 

No comments:

Post a Comment